Spring in the valley feels like winter everywhere else. The air is so thin and crisp that my skin crackles the instant the backdoor opens. A haze hangs in the distance, masking the dark mountains that loom along the horizon. Cow pies steam as I cross the field heading toward to railroad tracks. The cattails sway, beating an irregular rhythm on the age-old ties. Trains don’t come this way often enough to disrupt their wind-whipped dance.
Northern New Mexico. August 2006
Sunflowers stretch their necks, their heavy heads turn slowly. The road I follow disappears into a splash of gold and green. Dark eyes track my progress, each staring sightlessly as I disrupt their solitude.
Miami, Florida. September, 2003.
Strange fingers trace down my spine. In the press of bodies, I can’t find the source of the uninvited touch. The music is loud – the base pulses hard and fast leaving an echoing vibration in my chest. Bright colors and skin swirl around me. I’m a blob of black cotton in a sea of multi-hued polyester.
I’m building a world. It’s still earth – and should be recognizable – but the face of the planet has changed. Mountains have replaced valleys, oceans cover the deserts.
This place needs to be real, tactile, pungent. The setting is essential to the veracity of the story and to the development of the characters. The reader needs to feel dirt crumble between their bare toes, and later, the pinch of a first pair of stilettos and hear each footstep click on cement.
Generally plot and characters drive my work. Setting is just a flat backdrop, a very brief description to provide context. But this is the first time location is a character. I want to bring it to life, give it qualities of depth and motion.
I’ve begun literary sketches of my memories – the thoughts that gave birth to this story. I think it’s helped make each scene feel like something that could be true, but still a work in progress.
When you write, how do you determine what your settings look like? Are the based on real places? Or are they snapshots of imagination?